Introduction: An icon of the last two decades, Taylor Swift, announced the release of her eighth album, folklore, just a day before it came out. The country-turned-pop singer surprised fans with a more alternative-folk sounding album on July 24, 2020. She worked with producer Aaron Dessner from “The National” to write these songs over the last few months of quarantine. Jack Antonoff from “Bleachers” also helped with the instrumentals and production. I’ll never forget Taylor Swift’s self-titled album was one of the first CDs I owned. I would spend hours listening to it from my boombox flipping through the lyric booklet memorizing the words to every song. Here I am in college almost fifteen years later writing a review for her latest work. It’s crazy how life works! Now back to the album, listeners can expect to hear roots from her country sound, but with a mature alt-pop twist.
the 1 – This first track off the new album reminds me of Swift’s country roots. It has a lighthearted melody with accompanying strings and piano. The lyrics are reflective on a relationship that could have been, hence, “but it would’ve been fun / if you would’ve been the one.”
cardigan – “cardigan” sounds a lot like old Lana Del Rey in that melancholic movie soundtrack kind of way. In the music video, Swift journeys from a piano in an attic to a mystical forest world, tying in with the album’s title, folklore. According to fan theories circulating the internet hours after the album’s release, “cardigan” is the first song in a “teenage love triangle” throughout the album. The theories aren’t too far fetched because Swift did announce in a YouTube livestream that three of the songs would be connected to this triangle. Leave it to Taylor to include an engaging love story throughout the album!
the last great american dynasty – I would say this track has a slight folk-pop sound to it. This is the first track to incorporate “folklore” in the sense that it tells a story of someone who really lived. Though folklore is usually partially fictitious, folk music’s original purpose was to pass down stories to new generations through song. This song’s story is about the life of twentieth-century American socialite, Rebekah Harkness, and how she relates to Swift’s life today. In the lyrics, “Holiday House sat quietly on a beach […] and then it was bought by me,” Swift is talking about how she bought the mansion that belonged to Harkness.
exile (feat. Bon Iver) – The first and only collaboration on the album features indie folk singer Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. There have been comparisons between this track and “The Last Time” featuring Gary Lightbody from Swift’s Red album. Both are breakup songs from the point of view of two lovers, but personally “The Last Time” will still be my favorite out of the two.
my tears ricochet – This song was the first one Swift wrote for the album, and on her Instagram she stated it’s about, “an embittered tormentor showing up at a funeral of his fallen object of obsession.” There are heavenly backing vocals that make the sad lyrics sound enchanting. With the help of musician Jack Antonoff, the instrumentals of this song really just came together. I really love the lyrics to this song, but if I had to choose a favorite line it would be, “and if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?”
mirrorball – This is my favorite song from the album! Immediately once I heard it, I fell in love with the dreamy sound and metaphors of a disco ball. The song has that fairy-tale sound where you can just picture Taylor running through a forest in a ballgown. The lyrics that really hit home were, “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.” The gist of this song is about reflecting the type of personality a lover wants to see from you compared to who you really are.
seven – The folk-pop sounds come back in this song through string sections and Swift’s vocals. They reminded me a bit of Kacey Musgraves with a touch of Phoebe Bridgers. The song is thought to be about a childhood friend, and I think it’s really sweet to hear the tender and caring lyrics. The fact that the title matches the order on the album is just a really nice touch.
august – Remember that “teenage love triangle” mentioned earlier for “cardigan?” This is the second song fans theorize is a piece in the puzzle. A perfect summer romance song, Swift sings, “but I can see us lost in a memory / August slipped away into a moment of time / cause you were never mine.” It sounds as if it was a quick fling or one of those “in between” type romances. The sound is upbeat and more on the pop side.
this is me trying – Compared to the last track, this song slows down the pace of the album. Swift sings of regrets and mistakes, and the fact that she is trying to reflect and adjust accordingly. The post-chorus is filled with echoes and carries the last half of the song into a bittersweet orchestral movement.
illicit affairs – This song starts off stripped back and more acoustic. Much like the title states, this song is about being part of an affair, and the sting it leaves after it falls through. With lyrics like, “what started out in beautiful rooms / ended with meetings in parking lots,” shows the “rose colored glasses” coming off of the whole situation.
invisible string – The eleventh track lifts the mood back up in the album. This one also sounds a lot like Swift’s original country songs. The lyrics reference colors throughout the song to mark different points in which Swift’s life intertwines with a lover. The reference to an “invisible string” relates to Japanese folklore in which a red invisible string is thought to connect lovers that are destined to meet.
mad woman – There typically seems to be a diss track on each of Swift’s albums, but this one dives a little deeper into the general stigma that women who are upset or just expressing negative emotions are “crazy.” She sings, “and women like hunting witches too / doing your dirtiest work for you,” which points to the fact that sometimes women get caught up in tearing other women down for the sake of a man. Though the lyrics are filled with hurt and anger, the sound remains calm and steady, which shows the control Swift is channeling over her emotions.
epiphany – Swift uses this song to tell a bit of her own folklore. It tells the story of her grandfather who landed in Guadalcanal in 1942 during World War II. There’s even a verse that talks about the doctors and nurses serving around the world right now fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. The chorus, “with you I serve, with you I fall down / watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out,” float over a very ethereal sounding instrumental. In a way, this song serves as a beautiful time capsule.
betty – I’m just going to start by saying I’m a big fan of the harmonica in the beginning of this song, a little Americana-folk touch. This is the final song theorized to be part of the “teenage love triangle.” An interesting part of this entire triangle is that it never explicitly states that there is a boy involved, so this could very well be a tale of three women. “betty” ties together the love triangle songs by talking about a cardigan and the summer love mentioned in “august.”
peace – I feel like this song just brings Swift’s discography thus far into full circle with the opening line, “our coming-of-age has come and gone.” Her music has always reminded me of young love, and as she’s grown, so have her songs. They have taken fans through highschool and young adulthood. Now that the singer is 30 years old, the “coming-of-age” is a theme of the past. The song has a calming sound as she sings of what she would do for a lover despite the struggles that come with love.
hoax – The final song of folklore is sad and I don’t know how else to elaborate. The melancholic piano reminds me a lot of some of The Lumineers’ songs. With lyrics like, “you have beaten my heart / don’t want no other shade of blue but you / no other sadness in the world would do,” it leaves you heartbroken after listening to such an enticing journey of an album.
Summary: I think Swift was really vulnerable throughout the lyrics in this album. They definitely show more dimensions of love and even her personal life compared to her past works. It was wonderful to be surprised with this lovely album in the midst of a chaotic year. The production was also lovely. The album fills me with extreme nostalgia, and I think because of that, I would have to rate this a 4.5/5 Spinnaker Sails.
Standout Tracks: “cardigan,” “mirrorball,” “seven,” “august,” “betty.”
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